Awww Chiang Mai. Oh how I have missed you so!
Finally, after 8 years since I, Kristen, lived here and worked at the Starfish Home Orphanage, I was able to make it back to my much loved city to eat at my favorite spots, walk down long forgotten streets, drink buckets at some of my favorite bars, see some of my kids again, and all with 3 of the most special people! How lucky am I?!
We flew in from Phuket late at night and only had a few days to rally, but I think we did well. It was much cooler up north compared to the sweltering heat in the south and it made it a bit easier to get around and sightsee. We ate a lot, enjoying mostly the street food which is so infamous here in Chiang Mai, and had thai massages for hours, wandered some street markets buying up gifts for friends, downed some buckets at a few of my favorite old hangouts and best of all, I was able to go back to Starfish Home and see some of the kids I lived with and taught.
We headed there on the second day, but everyone was gone back home to their hill tribe villages in which most of the kids from the orphanage come from. So we returned the next day once everyone was back from their home visits, and I was able to see some of my old kids as well as meet a hundred new kindergartners that had just arrived. It was a bit of a chaos! But one of the first kids I was able to reconnect with was Opal, then 10 and now 18, Opal has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. She has impaired speech and has difficulty with her muscles tightening and restricting her movements, but is one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, and happiest kids I was working with. When we walked in the room, she instantly lit up and smiled and was SO happy to see me! I instantly began to cry, I couldn't help it. When I left the orphanage 8 years before, doctors had not given Opal long to live, and I had given her such a heartfelt "goodbye" believing I would not see her again likely on my future return. To see her there AND that she remembered me so well just made my heart sing! Her english was the best of all the kids and her and I were able to hug and chat and hug some more. It was a special moment I will not forget.
After, I was able to meet a handful of other teenagers which after looking into their faces, could tell exactly who they were. Just older. A few remembered me, but they were such little guys when I worked with them that I assumed they likely wouldn't remember. But a few of them did and then when I asked about one of the boys I worked with, one of the teenage boys stepped forwards and said, "I'm Gle" and it was just amazing to see how my kids had grown up to such mature young adults. Most of them were around 15 now and helping out a lot with the younger kids. It was pretty awesome to see and experience coming back to my old home all these years later and see how I had a part in helping them grow. That is true happiness in life. (Because of strict rules protecting the children, we were unable to take any photos of the kids, but their faces are burned into my heart, and the experience of being there was all I needed)
After 3 fun-filled days in Chiang Mai, we all hopped a place back to Bangkok and had a full day of relaxing poolside and gathering up the last of the gifts on Koh San Road before heading back to Oregon. We all sat down and had one last drink together before our send off and reflected on some pretty special times we have had together on this adventure in Thailand. Mindy, I am so happy you made it (especially after your trials and tribulations to get there) and were able to relax, recharge, laugh, enjoy and spend some time together. That's worth more than money. And JLo (Jordan), this has been a plan we have been making, to travel together, since you were in high school. After getting to backpack some of Europe with Lisa (our sister) a few years back, I had really wanted to be able to also travel with you. It was better than I had imagined it to be, getting to see you completely in your element of climbing, relaxing, meeting and getting to know new people, and smile was truly priceless. I hope the seed is planted and this is only the beginning of your travel experiences.
And Ville, thanks from the bottom of my heart, for such a wild ride! Not the typical honeymoon for sure, but the last 3 months of traveling through India, Nepal, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand has been pretty unforgettable and only adds to all the memories we have to look back on sitting on our porch and "swinging life away" together. You are my companjera and soul mate and the best travel buddy a girl could ask for. I love you and am excited for the next round of adventures.
Look out world, here we come!!
One day in Bangkok and low and behold who do we find at the airport, JLo (Jordan my younger brother)! This is his first trip out of the good ol' U.S.A. (other than a quick trip to a report in Mexico after high school) and boy was he excited to see us! We had a few days spent poolside, while Ville finally made it to a Chinese Medicine clinic for treatment because he just wasn't getting any better, and got some baggies of medicine that helped him build back his stomach. Bangkok was just so hot and muggy and the pool was the only way to go. That and an A/C hotel room.
Thanks to low oil prices, AirAsia has the cheapest flights ever and we were able to fly to Phuket in an hour instead of taking an overnight bus. Once there we grabbed a 2 hour taxi to Krabi and a half hour boat ride to Railay Beach East. A jaunt over a point and we arrived in Tonsai, where we checked into a small fanned room up in the hills close to the beach and began sweating. The beaches were absolutely beautiful, the tiny town super laid-back and full of backpacker/climber/hippie sorts. It was a blast! After a couple nights not sleeping through our poorly ventilated and hot bungalow, we scored a deal online and stayed the next 9 days in Tonsai Bay Resort near the beach with A/C and a killer breakfast buffet at the beach. And finally we are united with Mindy!! Poor girl had a hellish trip over and quite the adventure getting to us, but made it and our group was complete. She shared a ride with a guy from Phuket, Jesh, who came to Tonsai and we all had a great time exploring the area together.
We scrambled up to a lookout in the jungle, down to a beautiful lagoon, and Mindy even got attacked by monkeys trying to steal her peanuts. We relaxed on Railay Beach West, met a couple from Argentina, played a hilarious ball game with a big group of Thais, cracked some beers and took silly pictures. It finally truly felt like a relaxing vacation.
At a drop in yoga class we met two kick-ass girls from Santa Cruz, Hannah and Amy, and a new fun posse was formed. They introduced us to a friend of theirs, Jill, who lives and teaches in Phuket, but came for her month off to Tonsai to climb. JLo couldn't have asked for a better climbing partner on the trip. She had climbed here for years, knew all the routes, and brought along gear. Also her bubbly and charismatic personality just puts a smile on your face! The first couple days JLo was able to climb with a Swiss couple who were super, and once they left Jill and our posse were unstoppable. We climbed together, explored caves together, ran and swam together, kayaked and snorkeled together, shared beers, poi, laughs, and stories. Hannah and Amy left for Koh Lanta a couple days before us and it was a very sad, sad day. But even harder was the day we left Tonsai for Koh Ya Noi and Jill stayed behind. We will miss you Jill, Hannah, and Amy, but you are not forgotten. We will see you again some day soon. On the bike trip, when you visit Oregon, or when we look into the sky and see a shooting star. :)
Koh Ya Noi was a very relaxing low-key beach with a bungalow near the beach, and very hot and humid weather that kept us on our porch most the time. We did rent some motor bikes to zip around the island for a day and try some different food spots. Lots of swimming, floating, reading, and relaxing was spent here. And we found the best restaurant on the island if you make the trip: The Pier Restaurant. The lady that runs it is so sweet and man she can cook! The masaman curry was epic and the mango and sticky rice the sweetest in town.
We took a boat to Phuket, taxi to a cafe near the airport where we waited in A/C for our flight to Chiang Mai. Can't wait to see the kids and my old town!
K.G. & Ville
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